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Interview: Refused

Interview: Refused

Thursday 19th January, 2017 3:20PM

In late 1998, Swedish hardcore punk band Refused played their last ever show in a basement in Harrison, Virginia to a room of about 60 people. Shut down by police after a handful of songs, the unceremonious end was the final nail in the coffin of a band which was falling out due to conflict between singer Dennis Lyxzén and the rest of its members. However in the years that followed, the band gained a dedicated following around the globe for their third album The Shape Of Punk To Come, an album released just months before their break-up that would go on to be one of the most influential records of all time.

Fast forwarding to 2012, Refused reunited to play Coachella Festival, which would lead to more festival appearances - and despite their initial reluctance to reform full time - it eventually snowballed into the writing and recording of their fourth album, Freedom, which was released mid-2015. With the band coming to New Zealand to perform at Laneway Festival at the end of the month, we nabbed the opportunity to speak to Dennis about that final show, and how it feels to be taking the stage as Refused again... 

UTR: Hi Dennis! How's your day going?

DL: Good! I've been running errands and had a practise with my other band, so it's going pretty well.

Cool, so obviously you've spoken at length about releasing Freedom and why Refused came together to make this album. Can you tell me about the main challenges for you personally, or lessons you took away from recording that album?

Ummm, I think, a band like Refused is a very violent extroverted thing, the foundation of the band is pretty aggressive. And I think the biggest challenge was to feel that your voice, as a 40-plus year old man, suited was that music is supposed to represent. Like, that you are not a complacent. That it's not lazy. I think that was the biggest challenge. There's something about youthful exuberance and energy that's very hard to replicate. But we had to find, especially me as the singer, had to find an approach where you can go in and have the same sort of level of intensity and uh, insanity. But from a different point of view. I think that was my biggest challenge. As far as both singing and writing lyrics.

Because you have been writing for your band AC4 in recent years, how does the song writing differ between the two bands, especially going in to write this new Refused album?

Well, I had a bunch of bands... I mean I was in International Noise Conspiracy for like 14 years between. AC4 is like a fun project, and in the sense of a fun project it was written with not a lot of thought behind it, in a good way. Like, very spontaneous. For a band like AC4 there is no expectation of what it "should be", it can just exist, while Refused is an entity that is much bigger than me. So when you write for something like Refused, there's definitely a sense that you need to go deep into yourself and in to the music in a way that a lot of my other projects you don't have to, because they're not that type of project. But Refused is very demanding, and I think that is the biggest difference. When we started Refused in the 90s, I lacked the confidence of being a true musician, because David and Chris were so talented and they were very much above me in how good they were at playing. And so in the 90s I kind of made up for that by just kicking stuff over, hahahaha. But also, I made up for it by taking the lyric writing process very seriously. And any band I had in between, be it International Noise Conspiracy, or my current band Invasion, the lyric writing process for me is very very serious. And it was like that with Refused, but also I sort of internalised the insanity and aggression, and expectations of other people. So it's very different from most situations you put yourself into.

Did you find when you guys were writing Freedom, and not just the lyrics but the songs as a whole, and touring in 2012 and touring recently again, that you've slipped back into band dynamics, that kind of push-pull tension?

No, not at all, which is one of the interesting things. Like, when we were young kids we were horrible people in a lot of ways, hahaha. We were very intense and crazy characters, a whole mess of undiagnosed humans. One of the first things we did when we decided we were going to get back together was that we sat down and TALKED - about our emotions, about how felt about this, what our position in the band would be, what the band would represent, what it would mean - and that's been pivotal to us being able to perform. For us to be able to write. Because what destroyed the band in the 90s, can't destroy the band again. And we were very communicative, very open. So if someone has something on their mind we can talk about it and actually be adults about it. So no, luckily enough the dynamic is not the same as it was in the 90s and I think that's a prerequisite for us to even be able to exist.

I was reading in Rolling Stone that your last show in 1998, was at a basement in Virginia that was raided by police. What are your memories of that moment??

Ahhhhh, we kinda knew that we were breaking up. We knew that this was going to be the last show. We were not getting along. In fairness, we kinda hated each other. Me and David had a talk before the show and he'd said he was going to continue to do music with the other guys, they didn't want to hang out with me anymore. It was hard. And so we started playing and I think it was like the fourth song into the set, and the show is just interrupted by the cops, and there was just such a sense of relief. The crowd got very agitated and upset, because they were like "what the fuck, you're closing down the show". But I think for everyone on stage, it was like we didn't have to play that awkward last song and be like "oh we're breaking up, this is our last song ever". It just ended. Like in the middle of the set, someone pulled the plug and was like "it's over". So it was a huge sense of relief, it was like "thank you officer". It was kind of the perfect ending to the tumultuous circumstances, it was a fitting ending to what we were.

So fast forwarding, while you were split this legacy built around Refused and your third album The Shape of Punk to Come and now you are playing to massive audiences, tens of thousands of people, which is something you never did in your first iteration. Was it nerve-wracking stepping into that sort of scenario?

No, I think for Refused as a band... I mean the last show was in a basement. It was literally in someone's house in the basement. There was 60 people there. That was the last show. And as a band, we played at a couple of festivals once in awhile, and big shows of 500 people, which was huge at the time. But, personally... the day after Refused broke up I had new band, and a month after Refused broke up I was recording new music. And that band was lucky enough to be quite successful, so I've played Coachella, I've opened up for big bands, I've played to thousands of people. But I have to say though, with the other guys in Refused, when we broke up they just stopped playing, well they didn't stop playing music - but they didn't tour. David the drummer did a solo project and played like four shows every year. So when we got back together as a unit, I had played Coachella and the big festivals, and they hadn't. The first two warm up shows went really well, and then the first weekend of Coachella there was a lot of nervous people on stage, hahaha. But, you get used to it. You take the energy you used to have playing in these basements and small punk clubs, and you have to channel it differently when it's a bigger crowd. Now we don't think about it that much. But yeah, when we first got back together it was a bit nerve-wracking for some of the band.

Is it a strange feeling playing your old material live now, because it's from such a different time in your life?

No. Surprisingly not. I was quite worried when we got back together in 2012, like "how is this going to feel". Because we were different people back then [in the 90s]. But there's something about the way we play, and there's something about the music and the lyrics that still feels relevant. Sure, there's a couple of lines here-and-there that when I'm singing I'm like "eh it's kind of corny", I would not write these lyrics today. But it's also part of what makes it exciting, it's like a little part of the old you that seeps through once in a while.

One last question to wrap up. What's your personal favourite song on Freedom?

Um, I probably like 'Dawkin's Christ'. It's probably my favourite. I'm quite pleased with how the lyrics came out and I'm quite pleased with the concept of it. And it's a really aggressive, heavy song.

Refused are playing Laneway Festival in Auckland on Monday 30th January. Head over here for more information and to see the full line-up.


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Mon 30th Jan
Albert Park, Auckland

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